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Wise Blood: A Novel by Flannery…

Wise Blood: A Novel (original 1952; edition 2007)

by Flannery O'Connor

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Title:Wise Blood: A Novel
Authors:Flannery O'Connor
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2007), Paperback, 248 pages
Collections:Your library

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Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952)


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I read this as part of an online literature class I'm "taking," American Literature Since 1945, part of the Open Yale program. This is one of the books on the syllabus and is covered in two lectures.

Wise Blood is considered a story on the Catholic faith, but also a novel steeped in the lore of 50's-era southern gothic. Having already read O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard To Find, I knew what I was in for, writing-wise: eerie, sometimes repulsive characters and settings, memorable scenarios, and classic southern dialogue. This novel amplifies those themes with characters like Haze, Enoch and Sabbath. The last chapter alone, with the landlady, provides a wonderful coda to this strange tale.

**** 1/2

( )
  alienhard | Mar 26, 2014 |
I may need to reread this book some day to really get into Flannery O'Connor's style and meaning. Some books read for class just don't get through the first time around, and I remember not enjoying it, perhaps for this reason. ( )
  RhiannonAgnes | Mar 9, 2014 |
I read this shortly after reading O'Connor's short story collection, A Good Man is Hard To Find. I was surprised to find the very similar ending as many of the other short stories. I'm not quite sure what to do with the whole thing.
I recognize there is something going on that she doesn't explain or 'work out' within the text and pages of the story, but I wish she did. I'm planning on picking up some commentary or something to help me better understand the perspective. But I definitely found myself going "huh?" ( )
  ariahfine | Feb 6, 2014 |
Wise Blood (1952) was the first novel by Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), who in her short life became one of the exemplars of America’s Southern Gothic tradition and one of the country’s great writers of the 20th Century. Basically, she was a true original, which, as is usually the case, makes her stuff bizarre.

Wise Blood has plenty of incident but not much plot. O’Connor stapled it together using some stories she already had kicking around. She didn’t do a bad job integrating them but it does make any attempt at recapping the plot a pain.

Hazel Motes wanders about, trying to abandon his belief in Jesus. “I AM clean,” he said again, without any expression on his face or in his voice, just looking at the woman as if he were looking at a wall. “If Jesus existed, I wouldn’t be clean…” He meets “blind” preacher Asa Hawks and his daughter Sabbath. He decides to seduce Sabbath; she gets the same idea about him. He founds the Church Without Christ and buys the ultimate beater car to preach it from. “I’m going to preach there was no Fall because there was nothing to fall from and no Redemption because there was no Fall and no Judgment because there wasn’t the first two.” He is pursued by a weird kid named Enoch Emery who is also struggling against God’s interference. Then he meets his own doppelgänger and feels called upon to action. “Two things I can’t stand,” Haze said, “- a man that ain’t true and one that mocks what is. You shouldn’t ever have tampered with me if you didn’t want what you got.” Things get ominous from there.

Southern Gothic is one genre where you’re allowed to jump the shark. Right away if you like. One of the chief differences between O’Connor and, say, Carson McCullers is that O’Connor doles it out in a reasonable manner. In The Ballad of the Sad Cafe McCullers holds nothing back – the main characters are introduced feet-first as a giantess, a hunchbacked dwarf and the giantess’ demonic ex-husband. O’Connor introduces each player in the drama of Hazel Motes as just a little bit odd, getting you used to them as people before their inner grotesquerie is revealed. Her landscape thus seems the wider and more pervasive of the two, though she also lacks McCullers’ sympathy for losers and misfits. O’Connor’s tone is entirely mocking.

As such, her novel is off-balance. In dealing with the macabre and divine, you’d anticipate something very serious. You’d be right…and wrong. “It is a comic novel about a Christian malgre lui, and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death,” said the author. She instructed the book to be read with “zest,” as it was written. Since humour is subjective it’s hard to critique on this level. It’s like Kafka – some people find him hilarious, others just get freaked out. I certainly enjoyed Wise Blood but was not often amused (recounting some of its scenes to my mother had her laughing out loud with me vaguely puzzled as to why).

Here’s Hazel getting a rented room:

“What you do?” she asked. She was a tall bony woman, resembling the mop she carried upside-down.
He said he was a preacher.
The woman looked at him thoroughly and then she looked behind him at his car. “What church?” she asked.
He said the Church Without Christ.
“Protestant?” she asked suspiciously, “or something foreign?”
He said no mam, it was Protestant.

Flannery O’Connor was devoutly Catholic, which flavours all her writings but in a rather unusual way. She lived all her life in the Bible Belt and Wise Blood’s main cast are all nominally Protestant (though most are more truly myopic hucksters and inarticulate existentialists). Think of Catholicism in literature and you’ll probably picture guilt (lapsed or otherwise), adultery and miserable Irish boyhoods. Wise Blood doesn’t ascribe to any of that; it pokes fun when a lapsed Catholic does appear. Rather, O’Connor’s South is so incompetent it can’t even hone a dignified sense of the end-times. Everything anyone does in the unfriendly, fallen city of Taulkinham is charged with absurdity, all plots are ramshackle, all disguises are paper-thin, crimes go unnoticed and the police are calmly brutal about it all.

These people are treated as blind. Everyone in the novel is pretty much a jerk and some are charlatans on top of that. Enoch Emery misses no opportunity to prod and insult the animals he comes across; Hazel’s landlady, Mrs. Flood, only wants money; Hazel himself seems to have no moral or fear-induced constraints on his behaviour. Only the slutty teenager Sabbath Hawks acts like she might be a good person at heart (nice irony for a book from the late 40s – early 50s).

The final chapters strip the humour from the situation and fling the reader, through the viewpoint of the equally puzzled Mrs. Flood, into the alien landscape of martyrdom, where suffering is salvation and death is deliverance. Is it thus a happy ending? Does Hazel Motes receive divine grace? O’Connor doesn’t say; this isn’t a polemic. The novel’s moral compass is on the fritz but it is pointing somewhere. It’s just the reader’s job to figure out where that is.

The light touch never abandons proceedings, even in the retribution that visits each of these sinners. Enoch Emery’s fate is brought to him courtesy of a man in a gorilla suit. Haze uses his car in a way that you might expect from a Cormac McCarthy novel and promptly loses said vehicle for not having a driver’s license. Mrs. Flood is punished by love. Of course, if suffering is taken as a revelation of divine will then this counts as mercy. And since it’s not much possible to actually care about any of these people, the theory doesn’t come across as offensive but successfully thought-provoking. Wise Blood is a comic novel with a grim finale and a tragedy with a happy ending. Just try to wrap your brain around that one. I shall of course be reading all the rest of her work.

http://pseudointellectualreviews.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/wise-blood-flannery-oc... ( )
  nymith | Jan 26, 2014 |
bookshelves: winter-20132014, published-1952, tbr-busting-2013, doo-lally
Read in January, 2014

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor.
Doo lally
n. americas> southern gothic> georgia
pug ugly
film only
pub 1952
winter 2013

All Hazel Motes needs is a Sharp Suit and hat to perform a modern version of 'protesting too much implies the opposite'.
Depressing parable where I am assured that the film is true to the book. It would be hard to write more without discussing the author.

aNobii ( )
  mimal | Jan 2, 2014 |
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Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car.
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Book description
Hazel Motes returns from the military to find his home abandoned. He is a man in religious crisis. His own grandfather was a revival preacher, yet he has rejected not only faith, but the entire story of Jesus.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374530637, Paperback)

Wise Blood is a comedy with a fierce, Old Testament soul. Flannery O'Connor has no truck with such newfangled notions as psychology. Driven by forces outside their control, her characters are as one-dimensional--and mysterious--as figures on a frieze. Hazel Motes, for instance, has the temperament of a martyr, even though he spends most of the book trying to get God to go away. As a child he's convinced that "the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin." When that doesn't work, and when he returns from Korea determined "to be converted to nothing instead of evil," he still can't go anywhere without being mistaken for a preacher. (Not that the hat and shiny glare-blue suit help.) No matter what Hazel does, Jesus moves "from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark..."

Adrift after four years in the service, Hazel takes a train to the city of Taulkinham, buys himself a "rat-colored car," and sets about preaching on street corners for the Church Without Christ, "where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way." Along the way he meets Enoch Emery, who's only 18 years old but already works for the city, as well the blind preacher Asa Hawks and his illegitimate daughter, Sabbath Lily. (Her letter to an advice column: "Dear Mary, I am a bastard and a bastard shall not enter the kingdom of heaven as we all know, but I have this personality that makes boys follow me. Do you think I should neck or not?") Subsequent events involve a desiccated, centuries-old dwarf--Gonga the Giant Jungle Monarch--and Hazel's nemesis, Hoover Shoats, who starts the rival Church of Christ Without Christ. If you think these events don't end happily, you might be right.

Wise Blood is a savage satire of America's secular, commercial culture, as well as the humanism it holds so dear ("Dear Sabbath," Mary Brittle writes back, "Light necking is acceptable, but I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your religious values to see if they meet your needs in Life.") But the book's ultimate purpose is Religious, with a capital R--no metaphors, no allusions, just the thing itself in all its fierce glory. When Hazel whispers "I'm not clean," for instance, O'Connor thinks he is perfectly right. For readers unaccustomed to holding low comedy and high seriousness in their heads at the same time, all this can come as something of a shock. Who else could offer an allegory about free will, redemption, and original sin right alongside the more elemental pleasure of witnessing Enoch Emery dress up in a gorilla suit? Nobody else, that's who. And that's OK. More than one Flannery O'Connor in this world might show us more truth than we could bear. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:20 -0400)

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The passengers on the train to Taulkinham show mixed reactions when Haze questions their belief in Jesus.

(summary from another edition)

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